Parthians in Nineveh: Occupation


The famous Neo-Assyrian city of Nineveh was occupied by Seleucid Greeks and then Parthians after it fell to a force of Medes and Persians in the summer of 612 BC (Stronach and Lumsden 1992). The most important piece of Parthian architecture was uncovered by George Smith in 1875. [FIGURE 1]

Figure 1

Parthian lintel recovered by George Smith.  It bears devices that relate it to the art of Hatra, where other ‘dragons’ can be found. The lintel is currently in the British Museum (B.M. WAA 118896).

Drawing upon the wave of public enthusiasm for Assyrian culture stimulated by the famous excavations of Layard (1817-1894), Smith largely ignored non-literary materials, particularly from later periods.  His methods were such that this stone lintel, recovered near the entrance of the South West Palace, has no architectural context. It is likely that this lintel was part of a Parthian structure, but because Smith assumed it was Assyrian (Smith 1875: 146), it was illustrated on the cover of the second edition of his book Assyrian Discoveries. It depicts two winged creatures of a broad feline form with prominent feet and wings facing an altar.  Similar devices occur on the metopes of Hatrine Temples (Curtis 1976: 60).  Like other Parthian structures at Nineveh, it may have largely followed the Neo-Assyrian plan [FIGURE 2], but there may have been a Parthian period pitched brick vault as well.

Figure 2

Parthian rebuilding of Nineveh. Much of the Parthian period rebuilding follows the old Neo-Assyrian plan.  At first fired brick from earlier periods was used, and later stone and rubble walls were built.  A Parthian period cemetery corresponds with a region that was apparently not extensively re-built.  Revised from Campbell-Thompson and Hutchinson (1931: pl. 39).

For more solid evidence, one must progress from the scant architectural remains and consider small finds, but at this stage it is important to define major sources of information; and consider what the term Parthian really means.  Much of our information comes from the Classical world, which was in conflict with the Parthian empire.

Copyright 2003

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